Normally I spend the first 6 months of the year trying to catch up on the previous year's short fiction. I've decided if I keep doing that, I'll always be hopelessly behind, so this year I'm jumping right into 2006 publications, starting with the January 2006 Fantasy & Science Fiction. The opening novelette is Robert Reed's "Less Than Nothing", another entry in his series of stories about Raven, a Native American boy living in an isolated group as the world around them moves into the 21st century. In this story, Raven is banished from his home, haunted by the ghost of One-Less (who he apparently had killed in a story in the August 2004 issue that I don't recall). Raven goes on to learn many secrets about his tribe and the "demons" (as they call any human who's not a member of the tribe) who protect them. It's decent enough, but it feels more like the middle chapter of a novel than a standalone story.
"Planet of Mystery" by Terry Bisson is a fairly long novella (presented in two parts, the second of which is in the February issue) about the first expedition to land on Venus which discovers the impossible beneath the clouds: a breathable atmosphere, water, and a race of centaurs and Amazons. This is a fun homage to the Golden Age pulps, with amusing characters (especially Robbie the Robot) and a delightful over-the-top plot.
Matthew Hughes' "Shadow Man" is a reprint from his 2005 Night Shade collection, a very brief story about a serial killer whose voices turn out to be real. A nice twist at the end caps a neat little story. "A Daze in the Life" by Tony Sarowitz is set in a future where geeks rent their brainpower to corporate and government agencies to help sift through vast troves of surveillance data. Some interesting ideas and fairly topical in light of recent real-world events, but not particularly memorable.
Matthew Corradi's "Journey to Gantica" is a fable about a girl living in a world where one's size changes in accordance with the contents of one's heart. Adelia has grown too large for her home village so she sets off to slay giants, though her journey ends up being quite different than planned. There are several nifty scenes in this story (I especially liked the giant clock workshop), but I was disappointed by the too convenient ending.
"The Boy in Zaquitos" by Bruce McAlister is told in the form of a lecture by a former government agent who was used as a carrier to spread untraceable plagues to destabilize third-world regimes. However the story-telling is so dry that it's difficult to empathize with the narrator's guilt for his past actions or to appreciate the magnitude of his crimes.
The frame story of "Horse-Year Women" by Michaela Roessner lacks any overt fantasy content; rather it is simply the story of the friendship between an American woman and a younger Chinese friend named Thera. Over the years Thera shares the stories her mother told her about women born in the Year of the Horse, and it is those stories that justify the story's inclusion in F&SF. The history of the secret tribes of Horse-Year Women and their scattering around the world is engrossing and provides an interesting counterpoint to the tragedies of Thera's life in the real world.
I'd hoped to get completely updated tonight, but this is already much longer than expected, so I suppose I'll have to try to squeeze in another update tomorrow.